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How to Correct a “Bowing” Corset

In the past, I’ve discussed various reasons why your corset may be bowing (giving the “()” shape) in the back, including the popular “Shape of your Corset Gap” article –   however, the bowing is not only caused by a corset-body mismatch, but also by the types of bones and grommets in the back of the corset. In this article, I’m going to try and consolidate the information you need to identify why your corset is bowing in the back, and how you may be able to fix it if you think the pattern/ cut of the corset is not the problem.

Firstly, if you don’t know why bowing is an issue, refer back to my Addendum to Corset Gaps article, and how the steels can become permanently distorted with this gap shape.

Why is my Corset Bowing in the Back?

When the bones in the back of your corset are like “()”, there are a couple of issues going on.

As mentioned in my article about different corset gaps, one reason that the steels are bowing is that the corset is too curvy than your body is ready for. Typically, a corset is created to be smaller than your natural size at the waist, but the ribs and hips will match your natural measurements. It does NOT feel like a rubber cincher or faja, which tend to place pressure on the ribs, waist and hips equally. When you put on a corset, it reduces your waist (no kidding!). With every action, there’s an equal an opposite reaction – so your waist pushes back on the corset and provides resistance, while the ribs and hips of the corset have little to no tension, until you’re able to close the corset enough that the top and bottom edges pull in to hug the body.

Now, if you receive a corset and the first time you put it on you get the () gap, don’t panic. It doesn’t automatically mean that your corset wasn’t theoretically made to your measurements, but your waist is not compressing down or the corset is not reinforced in the best way to prevent the bowing. If you have a corset that flares a bit at the top and bottom edges, resist the urge to pull the ribs and hips of the corset in to meet the body right away – because if the waist doesn’t follow and refuses to reduce, then you will get the () gap.

Another reason that you’re seeing the () gap may be due to the grommets being set too far apart. Grommets are like multiple “anchor” points. Each one of them is responsible for holding a certain fraction of the total tension on the corset. The more grommets there are, the better this is distributed. If grommets are set more than about an inch apart (especially at or near the waistline), there won’t be enough grommets to provide the right distribution of tension through the back of the corset and the more likely you are to experience bowing. Later in the article I’ll discuss how to using lacing techniques and addition of more grommets to achieve more regular distribution of the tension, reducing the likelihood of those back steels bowing.

Other reasons may include the quality or the type of bones used in the back – the steels might be too malleable or too loose in their channels (the channels may be wide enough to allow the bones to twist and twirl) – or a combination of all of the above.

The more extreme the waist reduction, the more likely this kind of bowing can occur, and the bones could even potentially permanently kink and dig into your back – yikes!

Why would a corsetiere even consider putting flexible bones in the back of their corsets? Well, it often comes down to comfort and posture – in a previous video I demonstrated how some corsets (especially OTR corsets) tend to have very stiff and rigid steels in the back; so much that they refused to hug the lumbar spine and promote a healthy neutral posture. With some coaxing, you can gently curve these steels so they align better with you lumbar spine – but using flexible bones in a corset in the first place can eliminate this problem from the start, helping you maintain proper neutral posture, and making the corset much more comfortable (especially if you’re wearing it for longer durations or more frequently).

It’s important to note that bendy back bones are not necessarily a sign of inadequate experience on the maker’s part. There are some corsets that I’ve extensively altered to minimize the bowing, but other very experienced makers like Electra Designs and Dark Garden deliberately use more flexible steels for a variety of reasons, and in the case of their corsets I simply modified the lacing (a very simple and non-invasive solution) to reduce the bowing.

bowed-corset-back-steel-bones
Four different corsets, four different reasons that bowing can occur. From left to right: Heavenly corset being too small for me, Xandriana with very flexible steels despite having closer grommets, AZAC Curvy Girl with far set grommets, and Tighter Corsets with slippery laces. Corsets may have a combination or all of these problems, depending on the brand and the wearer’s body.

How to eliminate or reduce the bowing in your corset

There are four techniques I know of – here they are from least invasive to most invasive:

Chevron Lacing

I’ve also heard it called “tennis shoe lacing”. I have a video tutorial for the chevron lacing technique here. Like I mentioned, it creates a kind of an anchor point at each set of grommets – with this particular lacing style, there’s greater friction to hold the laces in place and prevent them from sliding open at the waist. Pair this with inverted bunny ears at the waistline and it will give even more control. I’ve seen this lacing used in my Electra Designs and Dark Garden corsets.

What I have also done in the past is use a set of two shorter laces in my corsets (or if you don’t have more laces and you’re not afraid of committing, you can simply cutting the bunny ears at the waistline to create two separate laces) – one lace is used for the top of the corset ending at the waistline, and one for the bottom of the corset up to the waistline, so I can pull and tighten each one individually. This also works best when the pulls are inverted, although it can be a bit confusing and take some time to get the hang of lacing it up. To lace up using two laces, I tighten the top a bit, and then tie off that ribbon.

Then I tighten the bottom and then tie that off.

Then I untie the top again and pull it tighter, then tie it off again.

Then I untie the bottom one and pull that one tighter, then tie it off, etc. so they work together and the waistline never has an opportunity to slide open. My corsets from The Bad Button laced with two ribbons, and also I tried this with my Tighter Corset and it worked well. However, I’ll admit that this can get annoying after awhile and I would eventually end up altering the corset, which brings us to…

Add More Grommets

Another suggestion is to add more grommets. Sometimes the grommets are spaced too far apart – if there were more grommets closer together at the waistline, they can distribute the tension more evenly and give you more leverage. In my Curvy Girl corset, my Gallery Serpentine corset, and my Heavenly Corset, I added more grommets in between the pre-existing ones (matching the grommets as best as I can).

See all the alterations I did in my Gallery Serpentine corset

See the alterations I did in my Curvy Girl corset

NOTE: if your corset has lacing bones (like Electra Designs corsets), adding more grommets is not possible without drilling through the bone. I don’t recommend doing this as it exposes the uncoated metal and may encourage rusting later, and it weakens the bone which increases the risk of snapping.

Tighten the Boning Channels

If the steels are twirling in their channels and you know how to sew, you can make the boning channel smaller or tighter which can help prevent twisting. As to which side of the channel to manipulate, I prefer to push the bone towards the grommets. Doing it by machine might be faster, but be careful not to hit the bone with your needle! For best results use a narrow zipper or cording foot if you can find one for your machine. The standard zipper foot that comes with domestic machines tend to not give quite as tight a result compared to a narrow foot. (Also, wear your safety goggles because if the needle hits the bone, it might break and fly at your face).

If sewing around your steel bone makes you nervous, you can undo the binding and slip out the bone completely, then tighten the channel with a smaller risk of breaking your needle – then just slide the bone back in and sew up the binding again. But if you’re going to this level of effort, then you can use this opportunity to…

Change out the Bones Completely

If you find that the original steels are paper thin and easily mangled, or if you’ve ended up permanently kinking them because of prolonged bowing in the back, you can simply replace them with new steels. You can purchase steels at pre-cut lengths online at sites like Vena Cava, Sew Curvy, Farthingales, or Corset Making. (Do NOT purchase the carbon-fiber bones for the back of the corset. They’re fantastic for the front of a corset if you like an extremely rigid, straight front – but they will not curve to the lumbar spine).

And if you put all of these techniques together, it makes for a corset with a very small chance of bowing outward at the waist.

The ONE Corset that has NEVER Bowed:

What’s an example of a corset that absolutely never bows in the back? My Contour Corset (actually, I now have two Contour Corsets. They’re that good.) The bones themselves are not remarkably stiff, the width of the boning channel looks average, and the grommets are not crazy close together. So how did she achieve this? The boning channels themselves are spaced very close together – the space where the grommets are inserted are only wide enough for the shank – and the wide flange of the grommets literally overlap with the bones themselves. This ensures two things: the washer of the grommet should never rip through because it’s anchored by the bones, and the bones should never twist because they’re anchored by the grommets! The grommets are also a little closer together at the waistline, but that’s not the most crucial detail. What also may contribute to the stability of the back panel is the very stiff mesh – it resists collapsing, stretching, warping or wrinkling so perhaps the fabric itself helps prevent bowing. Fran once demonstrated that her lacing panels are so strong, she can hang one from a door frame and sit on it like a swing!

Go forth and bow no more!

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Baby Blue Ribbon Cincher Case Study

This entry is a summary of the review video “Homemade Blue Ribbon Corset”. If you would like more complete information and side notes about the corset, you can watch the video on YouTube here:

Fit, length Short cincher about 12″ high in the center front, comes up high on the hips. Pointed in the front and in back.
Material Almost entirely 2.25″ wide double faced satin ribbon, with coutil flatlined to the ribbon on the vertical panels in front, side and back.
Construction Pattern is from page 88 of the book Corsets and Crinolines. The horizontal ribbons were draped into the correct shape and tacked on the sides, then sandwiched between two pieces of coutil-flatlined-to-ribbon vertical panels which were then topstitched. The bones sandwiched in the vertical panels only.
Binding There is only binding at the top and bottom of the vertical panels, also made with blue ribbon.
Waist tape None (ribbon corsets generally don’t have waist tapes).
Modesty panel None.
Busk Standard flexible busk, about 9.5″ long with 5 clasps.
Boning 14 bones in this corset; 8 bones on the side panels (4 on each side), 2 flats on either side of the busk and another 4 in the back sandwiching the grommets.
Grommets 26 gold #X00 2-part grommets (13 on each side). Gold was the only colour I had at the time.
Laces Simple white round shoe-lace style cord, about 7 meters.
Price Cost in materials was close to $35. A standard ribbon cincher is often sold for about $150-$200 depending on the maker. Custom fit ribbon cinchers often are more expensive.
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Princess Tamina Corset Case Study

This entry is a summary of my videos for the Princess Tamina costume. If you would like more  information and side notes about the corset and costume, you can watch the videos on YouTube here:

 

 

Fit, length Self-drafted underbust corset with a peaked front top and bottom edge. Stops just at the hips, and features a high back (7″ above waist). Made to close at 21″ at the waist. I took 3 horizontal measurements and 5 vertical measurements to draft this.
Material 4 layers of material; fashion fabric is a very stretchy gold-on-beige lamé, two layers of down-proof cotton ticking (labelled “coutil” in French) as strength layer, and ivory satin lining.
Construction Drafted from a 5-panel pattern. Lining was flatlined to ticking and lockstitched between the seams, then joined to another layer of ticking (wrong sides together) via the sandwich method. Sandwiched boning channels were sewn through those 3 layers, then the fashion fabric was redesigned to look like a ribbon corset and was tacked down at center front and back seams; floating in all other places. Embellishment was hand-sewn.
Binding Made from bias strips of lamé and machine stitched on both front and back. Back of binding was not folded under but left raw; as it’s a knit it doesn’t fray.
Waist tape 1-inch wide waist tape, invisibly stitched between the two layers of ticking.
Modesty panel None.
Busk None; closed front.
Boning Only 12 bones including center front; all half-inch wide steels. Two at center front and one on each seam between panels; only a bone on the outer edge of the grommets, not the inner edge.
Grommets There are 22, 2-part size #X00 grommets (11 on each side), finished in gold to match the rest of the corset. This corset being the first time I hammered in grommets, the back of some of them are rough and catch a bit on the laces.
Laces Round nylon utility cord made for outdoor/sports use. It was loosely woven, frayed easily, slippery and didn’t hold bows very well.
Price The cost for materials was close to $70 because the only store that supplied steel bones near me charged me an arm and a leg for them. Otherwise this corset would have been closer to $35-$40 in supplies. If I were to remake this corset today and sell it, it would cost around $315 USD.
($225 underbust corset + $15 half-inch boning upgrade (I’d use spiral at seams) + $20 double (proper) coutil strength layer upgrade + $40 pattern modification + $15 hand-sewn embellishments)
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Grey & Green Longline Underbust Case Study

This entry is a summary of the review video “Grey & Green underbust case study”. If you would like more complete information and side notes about the corset, you can watch the video on YouTube here:

Fit, length Self-drafted, longline (low over the hips) underbust corset with a peaked front top and a straight bottom edge. Made to close at 22″ at the waist. I took 5 horizontal measurements and 9 vertical measurements to draft this.
Material Fashion fabric is a black/white fine herringbone weave with metallic gold thread pinstripes This was fused to herringbone coutil interlining and lined in fern green satin.
Construction Drafted from a 6-panel pattern and both topstitched and lockstitched for extra strength. Boning channels are external (made from green satin fused to coutil) and the lining floats.
Binding The binding at top and bottom are made from 2-inch-wide strips of green satin, machine stitched on both sides.
Waist tape 1-inch wide waist tape, invisibly stitched between the coutil and the lining.
Modesty panel Suspended modesty panel stiffened with plastic canvas and finished the same way as the corset – covered in the pinstripe fabric and bound with green satin on top and bottom.
Busk Heavy duty stainless steel busk (1″ wide on each side) and was cut to 13″ long, with 5 pins.
Boning 20 bones not including the busk; I had used 1/4″ wide spirals double-boned at each seam (except the one adjacent to the busk) in the external channels. By the grommets there’s a 1/2″ wide flat bone on the outer edges and 1/4″ wide flat bone on the inner side.
Grommets There are 32, 2-part size #0 grommets (16 on each side), finished in silver (Chelsea’s choice). The grommets have a large lip around and are spaced 3/4″ inch apart down the length.
Laces Flat nylon braided shoelace-style laces; 8 yards long. They grip well, are densely woven and are resistant to catching, fraying or snapping.
Price The retail price for something similar is around $280 (underbust corset + heavy busk upgrade + double boning upgrade + external boning channels upgrade).
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Homemade Corset: Grey Longline Closed-Front Underbust

This entry is a summary of the review video “Showing my homemade corset”. If you would like more complete information and side notes about the corset, you can watch the video on YouTube here:

Fit, length Drafted from Foundations Revealed pattern tutorial. It’s a longline underbust corset with a center front of about 13″ and a waist of about 23″, with an extreme hourglass silhouette. I made the ribcage a little too large so the back seams look like / instead of ||
Material Made out of a black/white fine herringbone weave (I call it grey because that’s how it looks from afar) with gold metallic thread as an outer layer, and one layer of down-proof cotton ticking as a strength layer, which generally doesn’t stretch, but isn’t as strong as coutil.
Construction Drafted from a 5-panel pattern and constructed in the “sandwich” technique in which each layer has its panels individually assembled and then the two layers are attached at the ends, flipped right-side out and then bones are sandwiched between the layers.
Binding The binding at top and bottom are made out of bias strips of the same white/black herringbone fabric.
Waist tape 1-inch wide waist tape, invisibly stitched between the two layers. It’s slightly tighter than the panels of the corset which is what causes the “groove” around the waistline of the corset.
Modesty panel None.
Busk None, this was before I knew where to buy busks (other than the overpriced ones at anime conventions) so I made this with a closed front
Boning 22 bones including the bones at the center front; I had used 1/2″ wide hoop steel for the center front and by the grommets, and 1/4″ wide flats double-boned at each seam. These particular flats were flimsy, which is how I got the silhouette without resistance to the bones.
Grommets There are 24, 2-part size #X00 grommets (12 on each side), finished in gold (the only colour I could find at the time). The grommets have a small size lip around. One of the grommets later popped out at the waistline.
Laces Flat cotton braided shoelace-style laces bought at Timeless Trends; 7 yards long. They grip well, have no spring and are very easy to tighten, however they do snap after about a year of regular use.
Price Cost me probably around $40-$50 in materials, and around 24 hours total to make – this was my 3rd corset so I was still moving very slowly through the steps.
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My First Corset

This entry is a summary of the review video “Case Study: My First Corset”. If you would like more complete information and side notes about the corset, you can watch the video on YouTube here:

Fit, length Made from Simplicity 9769 pattern. The pattern is larger than expected, so I recommend grading it in at the waist if you want an accurate reduction. Demibust, not longline. Has some slight curve – it was supposed to be a Victorian hourglass shape but it stretched in places. The center front is about 14”.
Material Made out of a single layer of a bedsheet, which has stretched over the years. The fabric is now more transparent. One part of the material ripped when I was letting out the seams and I was a little too vigorous with my seam ripper.There are some pink marks stained on the fabric from using sidewalk chalk instead of tailor’s chalk to mark the seams.
Construction This was my first time flat-felling seams. Internal boning channels made from 1-inch wide twill tape folded over double and sewn down.
Binding The binding at top and bottom are white cotton bias tape.
Waist tape None.
Modesty panel None.
Busk Standard flexible busk,  about 12″ long. I didn’t double-stitch it so it started popping out. I had to repair it several times with an overcast stitch. One of the loops are now bent from too much stress.
Boning 22 bones not inlcuding busk; I cannibalized a vintage corset it for its flat steel bones. Some of the steel bones were too short, and so I doubled up the boning with plastic featherweight boning along the full length of the channel, and then just the metal bit in the very centre of the bone at the waist. This is why you saw the corset buckling in places like in the demibust area when it was on.
Grommets There are 30, 2-part size grommets (15 on each side), finished in nickel. The grommets are sturdy with small size lip around. One of the grommets popped out at the waistline.
Laces White round nylon braided cord style. It has no spring, but tends to catch on grommet edges. Cuts into my hands when I’m tightening the corset.
Price Cost me probably around $35 in materials. As an end product, I would probably have to pay you to take it.
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CorsetDeal Waspie Underbust Review

This entry is a summary of the review video “Longline Overbust Review (CorsetDeal/Corsets-UK)”. If you would like more complete information and side notes about the corset, you can watch the video on YouTube here:

Fit, length Has very little curve; gives me a more tubular/cylindrical shape than an hourglass. The center front is 11”. The shortest part at the side is 6.5″. Very short, does not come over the hips at all. Even so, I wouldn’t recommend this for people with wide hips.
Material Two layers; the outside heavy polyester satin fabric, and the inside cotton twill.
Construction 6 panel pattern. Panels are top-stitched at the seams, and then internal boning channels laid down, made of black twill.
Binding The binding at top and bottom are black polyester bias tape. Also has 6 garter tabs, but I advise not wearing garters with this corset as it’s so short.
Waist tape Waist tape running through the corset, seen on the inside, made of 1” wide single-faced satin ribbon.
Modesty panel Unboned modesty panel, 6.5 inches wide made from polyester pinstripe on the outside and black twill on the underside. No placket beneath the busk.
Busk Slightly heavy duty, almost 1″ on each side. Stiffer than a standard flexible busk. 10″ long with 5 pins.
Boning 14 steel bones in this corset not including the busk. Single boned on the seams; all the other bones in this corset are spring steel.
Grommets There are 16, 2-part size grommets (8 on each side), finished in nickel. The grommets are sturdy with moderate size lip around, there is some pulling away of the fabric on the grommets around the bunny ears at the waist.
Laces Black round nylon braided cord style. Very strong, although fairly slippery. It has no spring. They are resistant to fraying and catching.
Price Currently ranges from $40 USD – 70 USD (£25 to £45 in UK).

 

Final Thoughts:
Many moons ago, I bought an underbust corset (“Candy” style) from Corsets-UK. I think I tried it on perhaps twice before selling it, because I felt that my solar plexus was being crushed and my hips lost all circulation. I decided to give this company the benefit of the doubt by trying their Waspie underbust a bit more than a year later, to see if their pattern had improved – maybe this one would be curvier, or more comfortable since it’s cut higher on the hips. I was disappointed. I know that many customers are very happy with this company’s corsets, and if you have the body to pull off this style, then that’s great. However I have to say that this corset did not suit my body type. It didn’t flatter me, and when I had altered it to make it more flattering to my body type, the grommets gave out soon after. I’m sad to say that I doubt that I’ll order from this company again. 

For those interested in trying a corset from CorsetDeal, I’ve found a coupon for 20% off anything on the CorsetDeal site here (aff link).